Want to Reach Your Writing Goals? Try a DIY Writing Retreat

Want to Reach Your Writing Goals? Try a DIY Writing Retreat

Raise your hand if you’d love some uninterrupted writing time — a chance to focus fully on your work without the demands of everyday life. You’re not alone.

Maybe you’ve thought about applying to a writing residency or dreamed about one of the many writing retreats offered each year.

Unfortunately, for many, these opportunities are nothing but daydreams. The cost of travel is prohibitive for many writers, and taking two or three weeks (or more) off from work can be nearly impossible — especially if you’re writing on the side of a full-time job.

But no matter whether you’re a full-time, part-time or any-moment-of-spare-time writer, you can take time away to write, right now.

How? Create a do-it-yourself writing retreat.

Why should you take a DIY writing retreat?

Making your own time and space to write is a shortcut to many of the benefits of attending a writing residency or retreat. Although a DIY writing retreat doesn’t have the prestige factor of places like Jentel and Hedgebrook, you’ll still find immense value in setting aside a few whole days to write.

Here are five reasons you should take yourself on a writing retreat:

1. You want time to write

Maybe the day-to-day hustle is getting in the way: you just can’t drop everything and write.

It’s hard to separate out time for your writing! A writing retreat gives you at least a few hours of quiet, peaceful writing time. It can help you build your writing stamina and even jump-start a daily writing plan, which you can take back to your regular life.

2. You need structure

If you schedule your writing retreat ahead of time, down to the hour, you won’t have time to think about what you “should” be doing. You’ll be doing it.

3. You don’t know what to write

Just finished a project and not sure what to try next? A writing retreat will force you to pick a direction — any direction — and just write.

Try using prompts or test out a totally new genre or style. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a mystery novel, try writing a children’s picture book. Focused on blogging? Write the first few chapters of that memoir you’ve been thinking about.

4.You’ve had a project sitting on the back burner for far too long

Going on a writing retreat will force you to set goals and work towards them. It gives you the headspace to take a good hard look at your project and finally get down to brass tacks. You have to make progress, because that project is all you’re going to focus on for the length of your retreat.

5. You’ve always wanted to feel like a real writer

Want to know who goes on writing retreats? Writers!

How to create a DIY writing retreat

Taking yourself on a writing retreat doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as kicking your family out of the house for an afternoon and writing at the kitchen table. But to truly get into the retreat mindset, you’re going to need a few things:

  • A change of scenery: Try to go somewhere new, even if it’s just your garage. Giving yourself a break from your usual routine will put you in the right frame of mind to explore.
  • A goal: Don’t just say “I’m going to write” — you need a specific, measurable goal. Do you want to just get words on the page? Give yourself a page or word count to hit. Do you want to finish a project? Break it down and aim to finish next step — a chapter, scene or article.
  • A plan: Don’t pretend you will write for four hours straight — everyone needs a snack! Write out a schedule for yourself, including coffee breaks and time to relax.

[bctt tweet=”DIY writing retreat: you need a goal, a plan & a chance of scenery, says @likesoatmeal”]

Plan ahead to avoid distractions

The hardest thing for many people is disconnecting. If you know you’ll be distracted by email, leave your phone in the car and turn off your computer’s Wi-fi.

If you’re worried you’ll want to run errands, head to a new town. Don’t go somewhere where you’ll run into neighbors; instead of the local coffee shop, try a coffee shop in a different neighborhood or the library at your local community college.

Once you’ve found a writing hideout, write your goal on a piece of paper and tape it above your writing space or in your notebook. If you’re in a coffee shop or another noisy place, put on headphones or retreat to a quieter corner.

Remember to take breaks

After you’ve spent about an hour writing, give yourself a short break outside your writing space. Don’t think about how much you’ve done or how far you are toward your goal; instead, enjoy the chance to dedicate time to writing. After your break, head back to your writing space for another hour or so. If you’re feeling good, feel free to write more! If not, try freewriting for a few minutes to loosen up.

If you have more time — a whole day or weekend — take time off in the afternoon to go on an adventure. Take a run or a hike, or visit a museum. Taking a break can inspire new ideas, not to mention renewed enthusiasm for writing.

Celebrate your retreat, however long it is

If two or three hours is all that you can take, great! Open a fresh page in your notebook or computer and spend a few minutes reflecting on what you accomplished.

Did you like your retreat? Did you feel stumped? What could you do next time to make it easier for you to write: go some place quieter (or noisier), bring a pen and notebook instead of a computer, write with a buddy? Jot down a few notes on your experience and make a quick plan for your next retreat.

Remember, you don’t need a lot of time or money to write. You just need a few hours and a plan.

Have you taken yourself on a DIY writing retreat — or are you inspired to create one?

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Featured resource

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14 comments

  • Marcy McKay says:

    I’ve definitely taken DIY retreats and love them. I’d also recommend watching inspiring movies that have writing/creative bents to them: The Pursuit of Happyness, Finding Forrester, Freedom Writers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Thanks, Alicia!

  • Morning, The timing of this post is impeccable…..I really need a DIY retreat, and am mulling over; escaping to my local library for a little quiet writing time. It’s amazing how many interruptions can occur when you need to get something done.

    Thank you!

  • Allison says:

    This is all great advice! I am looking to expand on my blog to create a web series, and while actually getting the ideas on paper is easy, actually getting up the nerve to get in front of the camera is a whole other thing. I do not live alone, and I would love for my parents not to have to listen in, though they understand and wouldn’t interrupt. Just the idea of having time alone in a quiet house to practice before a camera and actually film something would be nice, but is not ideal. But I will try to have a makeshift retreat, I owe it to myself!

  • Gigi M says:

    I’m glad I came across this! I’ve been wanting to write opinion articles and continue my exposes, but haven’t been able to write much on them. This article was great advice and I may just try it for my days off of work. 🙂

  • Jeanine says:

    Hello! Thank you ladies for the advice. Most importantly, thank you Alicia for thinking of others and creating your brilliant DIY. I wish you all the best in your writing, health, and life in general!

    Does anybody have any suggestions on retreats that already exist in places like Seattle or Portland or ? If not, I’m thinking about creating my own retreat which will include yoga and massage time. A reflective, engaged, and creative retreat is what I’m looking to create from a beautiful cabin or raining city (Seattle) where there are quiet coffee places and fireplaces. Or from a location that offers scenic views in an open space (hi rise/condo) with exposed brick on one of the walls while enjoying a lit candle. Any suggestions on locations?

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